For Kalamazoo area fans, and people with too much time on their hands, I’ll do a reading at the Richland Public Library, Tuesday, January 14, 7-9 p.m. Hope to see youse dere, eh.
For Kalamazoo area fans, and people with too much time on their hands, I’ll do a reading at the Richland Public Library, Tuesday, January 14, 7-9 p.m. Hope to see youse dere, eh.
DAY 131, Wednesday, September 10, ALBERTA — Weird night and day. Shaksper suddenly wanted outside at 0330 and headed around the side of the house, but no barking. Today we discovered a scat gift, not of his manufacture, though at this point we’re not sure what gifted us. He’s been acting sort of hinky all day and sniffing like crazy, so we are tentatively thinking a small bear came through en route to checking out our suet, which we took down months ago because only blackbirds were on it and going through them like hot dogs at a ball game, but now the blackbirds are gone, the suet is back up, and maybe we had a vizzie. Cool. Maybe.
Ordinarily I would have been awake at 0330, or close to it, but not last night. We hiked far up into the nearby hills yesterday, found ample piles of bear leavings along the way. Point is that my patterns of writing have sort of settled into another weird schedule but there seems to be no uniformity to it. One week its one sked, the next week another, with the “average” start being 0400-0800, and another from 8-11 or midnight. I maybe that writing short stories puts my mind in a jumpier schedule, don’t know. When I’m in a novel it’s the same story day in and day out, but short stories chan
ge fairly quickly so maybe my brain is reacting to this. When I am working on a novel my brain settles into something like a long-distance runner’s pattern where the total focus is solely on the next step, or place to put my foot, and in writing that’s pretty much the task in a long piece, with turn-points and waypoints coming up at some fair distances. When I have a short story in mind I seem to be more concentrated and more intense in getting it down and that first draft into the plastic bin for the next collection. Short stories are their own diminutive worlds and because they vary so much and thus my long-distance mindset is never called into action.
Short stories, to keep the clumsy comparison alive are more like running what we called the 440 or quarter mile when I was in high school in neanderthal times. You went off at a fast pace, not quite a sprint back then and around 220 you looked around and made what adjustment you needed, which meant sometimes the last 220 was all-out. Short-story writing feels something like the 440. You open fast, keep every step aimed at the finish, control the emotion and drama to fit the situation and close it up with a sprint and a memorable run through the tape, a finish to leave observers talking, or at least thinking about what just happened.
I enjoy writing short stories, but the process is its own animal. For example, I began a story, “Corona Civica” the morning of Sept 3 and finished it the morning of Sept 5, 33 handwritten pages in all. Won’t know word count until I type and that won’t happen until this winter. So, couple days writing time, but this particular story had bounced around and fermented in my head for a month or more, maybe longer.
As a contrast, both “A Writer’s Moose” and “Win, Win” literally popped into my head and were down on paper in no time, with no long birthing periods. I got up on the 4th, started Moose, finished it the morning of the 6th. By finished I mean the draft. For me I prefer to have a complete entity to revise, cut and polish, rather than as I go.
Most, if no all writers, have their own work processes, which may be similar in some ways, but are rarely even close to identical. Writing a novel is not like manufacturing a product, though that indeed is what the novelist is doing. Like houses, novels are made step by step and the only measure applied at the end is: Does the story work or not? If not, why not, and based on why not, what can be done, if anything to move it from not working to working? If it can’t be fixed what parts will provide good salvage for another time? In the writing game all that matters is the finished product, not how you get to it.
My usual process involves characters forming in my head. These can be stimulated by anything from something I saw to something I heard, to something I read. Once observed such catalysts begin to ferment. Sometimes the fermentation goes for a long time and produces a recognizable voice, which then begins talking to me, not in the bat-shit, Martian- in-my-fillings inner voice way, but simply a nice voice in the head, an interesting one. Sometimes this sort of thing can drag on for years. Only when the voice is loud and clear and interesting do I take up the pen. What starts the writing is a physical voice,which talks into the sensor in my brain and says to me, “here’s where the story starts, or where it ends.” Either is helpful as a starter. Once I launch, the characters push me toward the natural end of the tale, which, like the start, is not something on a map, but rather something you recognize for what it is when you see it.
The things writers think about, once the process begins, are somewhat different than what readers think about, but we do think some about the readers as this progresses.
For example, in novels with recurring characters, I’ll only hint at a continuing character’s look and physical description. I may tell you that someone is tall, or whatever, but not much more because I want your brain to provide the details that work best for you and what I may see as a Grady Service or Lute Bapcat will not be who or what you see. This is also why movies often fail. Characters from books do not easily translate to actors chosen to portray them and thus choice of actors is critical for directors and producers. Every time Limpy Allerdyce comes up in a story, you get to see the Limpy you want to see ant therefore you have some sweat equity in the outcome.
Writers fuss considerably with and worry about voice, most often the narrator or the voice telling the tale. To me it’s a never-ending goal to keep myself out of the narrative and let you look directly and only into the character’s head. Naturally I fail, but I keep trying because when you are reading and nothing reminds you of the author or narrator or anything else external, the magic is real, you are inside the character, moving, seeing, feeling and thinking with him. In all of my latter books, probably since 2000, I try to never put you into more than one voice in an entire novel so that you travel the story with the protagonist. I think I’m pretty solid on this, but there are no doubt slips now and then. I do this because I want you as the reader securely inside that one critical mind so that everything that happens goes solely though that one filter.
Writers also have to pay attention to speed, or pace. We know that dialog moves faster than description and that short sentences go faster than longer ones, short scenes or chapters faster than lengthier ones and as the story moves along we use this knowledge to either raise the tension or dampen it as the telling needs.
This writer also thinks a lot about silence both as a marker of events and mind condition, and as a tool. If you’ve just driven cross country at 75 mph you are going to be somewhat velocitized when you stop, the physiological and psychological sense of having just stop being somewhat delayed until the body itself can slow down. It’s probably something like the ghost pains and sensations amputees experience, but the point is that when you stop or hit a sudden silence it is not something that goes unnoticed and writers can use such moments to either illuminate things that went or before, or will happen subsequently.
Likewise, the fact of fiction is that fiction needs fact. Let me state that another way, Readers read writing and writers write reading. The protein of stories is always fact and the amount can vary from mountains (as in Moby Dick, with Melville first having you build a whaling ship before launching the big hunt) to something a lot less. It’s the facts the writers selects that often make a story convincing, compelling, and authentic. We aren’t seeking some endlessly verbal vomitorium, but just the right facts applied at just the right time in just the right part of the story.
Sound is a peculiar phenomenon. I can remember in my jock days playing in front of large crowds who were tearing the roof off the gym, yet down on the floor we players could talk in near-normal tones of voice and hear and be heard with no strain at all, like we were inside some sort of sound bubble. This happened a number of times and it struck me that a writer needs to think about this sort of thing and how he or she might deploy it. The challenge for the writer seems to be how do you create memorable yet believable sound experiences befitting the tale being spun, and make the experience come through to the reader. There’s no set or pat answer to this challenge.
Here it is Sept 10 and I have been playing with another short story, this one about a tailgunner on a B-17 forced to bailout in the mountains, not in wartime, but in training before deployment to Europe and he parachutes into and is hung in a tree and there are bears around the base of the tree and deep snow on the ground and he has no idea where he is and what is he going to do to first get down safely, second evade the bears safely and most importantly find his way to safety? And all the time think, if I have to go through all this trauma in training, what will the real deal be like and do I want to put myself through that, or find a way out, honorable or otherwise?
Great blackberry picking couple of days ago, up the hill here. Got almost a quart in less than an hour and even spent some time staring up into a very tall white pine, diamets of four feet, maybe, wondering how the hell I would get down without breaking my keester.
Back to work. I leave you with the scat present from this morning. Sorry for the “up-close look.”
I’ll be signing books at Snowbound Books in Marquette, Saturday, September 20, 1-3 p.m.
Pouring rain here today wind howling, high of 45 degrees. I know: odd title, but dog has been hinky all day and we found some odd scat by wall of the house. He wanted out about 3:30 a.m. last night and it may be he scared off a passing bruin.I’ll post the scat photo. Only guess from pals so far is bear, which was our first thought as well.
Been doing some colored pencil work during September, all subjects of things seen while we are here. On paper bags from the grocery store, which handles pencils, acrylics or pastels
about equally well. Photos follow:
DAY 129, Monday, Sept 8, ALBERTA — The fall turn happens both gradually and suddenly, in drips and drabs, a little like Chinese Water Torture.
In spring we were seeing up to fifty robins a day, but since sometime in July: zed, none, zero. T
The hummingbird males were one day no longer here and now we have only females and youngsters, all with the same low tolerance for others of their own kind. Were humans hummers, and in possession of weapons with more firepower than beaks or wings, the human race might perish en masse in short order. We have no idea the route the hummers take, but given where we are, perhaps they fly south in swarms over Wisconsin en route to Mexico. Do they stop along the way? Don’t know. If so, we should see waves here as those north of us push through. All we know is that one day the endless line to our feeders will stop abruptly and the little birds so fascinating to watch will become ghost memories until next spring.
Yesterday Lonnie saw a juvenile yellow belly sapsucker and today saw the juvenile and two adults in the same place. Based on our books they are moving through here to the south.
Our local colony of cliff swallows, perhaps 40 or more, left for the south two weeks early. Snow buntings came in one month early, here in late August instead of late September.
Yesterday we made our Sunday newspaper run (CHICAGO TRIBUNE and NEW YORK TIMES, GREEN BAY, DETROIT, HOUGHTON and MARQUETTE newspapers) Trib and NYT) and gassed up and watched a couple dozen yellow-headed blackbird females and juveniles plucking dragonflies along the Keweenaw Bay shoreline. A first sighting on these birds. They are also migrating.
Our supposedly rare Brewer’s blackbirds (they were here all summer), formed into flocks within the past two weeks, hopped all over the campus, foraging like an army on the move and living off the land.
Local sightings of wolves crossing the hardtop roads are on the upswing as the wolves start moving from their summer focus on small mammals in their rendevous areas, to deer and they are starting to move, one must assume towards areas where deer congregate. We know of a “heavy” wolf concentration area to the west of us and one day soon will take a ride over that way to see what we can see.
Black bears are reported to be tearing down bird feeders, etc, and breaking into small outbuildings, this despite a huge mast and berry crop. Thimbleberries, wild strawberries, and razzies are done for the season. Bloobs are on the downswing, but there are still blackberries ripening. From all we’ve heard this was not a big thimbleberry year.
Late this week, the weather gremlins are saying, we’ll have highs of 50 and lows in the mid-thirties, for several days. We will have to start covering our veggies, which are still growing on vines and plants. Our hot red peppers have yielded only two little firecrackers thus far, but there are more than a hundred on the small bush. They need time.
Everyday brings less light and more colored leaves to the ground. The color splash is still in the hint stage, but the full show is inevitable.
The campus expanses of lawn are covered with beautiful yellow Canada hawkweed, who politely fold up in the evening, bring the law color back to green. They don’t reopen in the morning until the sun gets high, this morning it was after 10:30 A.M.
Cluster flies are beginning to try to enter dwellings to ride out winter. They are disgusting things and by spring there will be piles of desiccated little corpses between all the windows and we will have to vaccuum them out as a first order of business in spring. We don’t remember cluster flies being a problem over in the EUP, but perhaps our circumstances were different.
This morning we had swarming flocks of goldfinches, the males were peacefully enjoying thistle on the feeder while moms kept watch on the young ones who are just learning to aviate and were showing various levels of aptitude, some of them a little on the wobbly and clumsy side. We watched a half dozen little ones land on the tomato plants to find food or eat on the tops of the veggie support sticks.
Eighteen sand hill cranes flew over Lonnie this morning, en route to a staging area to make larger flocks. These seem a little early, but we remember Deer Park where they simply disappeared one day.
Football is under way at all levels: high school, through pro.
Fishermen have been whacking salmon in Keweenaw Bay all summer, but now they are starting up the rivers, the kings leading the way, soon to be followed by cohos and pinks. We have not yet waded the rivers for cohos yet, but plan to.
It will be no time before bird hunters are afield and we heard so many more birds drumming this past spring than we ever heard or saw in the EUP. Hunting ought to be good, at least around here.
One bear guide told me he’s baiting 25 sites and I’m not sure if it’s yet legal to bait. Don’t know if he’s strictly a bait guide, or runs hounds too. Too much braggadoccio to take seriously.
Bow hunters are out on the two tracks and dirt roads scouting, sucking down road brews and joints (legal marijuana, no doubt).
The whole fall circus show is set to begin and everyone is talking out loud about the need for a good Indian summer, which is that nice period after the first hard frosts lay in.
Though fall is the season of an ending, it is the season many outdoorsmen look to with the most ardor and for good reason as good fishing and hunting opportunities of all sorts set in. yesterday we followed a small SUV all the way across the Plains Road, two youngsters inside and we could smell their dope clouds rolling back on us and my head’s always plugged by allergies, so if I can smell the skunk-weed, you know there’s a thick cloud built up inside.
Our own southerly migration is ahead. We will not be sorry to leave winter behind — the kind of winter up here that makes the winters in Kalamazoo a joke. Snow in the Keweenaw last season was almost 400 inches. Ground frost got down ten feet in many places and all sorts of people had burst pipes. The usual winter up here, a Yooper lady told us one day, is a lot of snow, or a lot of bad cold, but last year was both and that made it really bad. She ran out of wood in December, and had another load brought in March and was out in February on land she and her husband own along cliff drive, cutting five foot lengths of firewood, and buried her four-wheeler in the snow and had to abandon it and leave it there for the duration of winter. No complaints in any of this, not even any awe, just a straight report on how it was and is, which is finally how Yoopers deal with tough circumstances. They rarely whine: they just cope. Good lessons for all of us.
It will be good to get back south to see loved ones and friends, but it is always tough to leave this place called the Upper Peninsula, which is special in our hearts.
Rolled Early yesterday to attend an auction in Hancock, a first for both of us. Lovely setting, it spawned a poem and we might have stayed if we had any idea what the hell the plan and its timing were, but no one seemed to want to share, and we moved on to Lake Linden and on down to White City and Jacobsville, back to Lake Linden, then up to Mohawk and down to Calumet to sign stock at Copper World on Fifth Street and had nice conversation with the proprietors and some fans as well. It was a day filled with interesting random images, which follow, and of course our visit to Mowhawk to the Wood’n Spoon and a new supply of raison safron cookies! (COOKIE-COOKIE-COOKIE!) Finally home a day’s end to listen to MSU get ass-kicked by Whoregon U. Let the sharing begin now. We had a far better day than the Spartoons.
Auction at 311 Water Street
The aged living gather like hyenas above the ship canal to paw through the stuff of the dearly departed, assign value, we call this an auction,complete with rental eats (isn’t all food rented?) The regular viewers, like Evanovich’s Grandma Mazur, bring their own folding decampchairs, set them up in a half moon around the up-sloping driveway of cracked cement, form lines to circulate through goat trails of detritus, white hairs all, brain-locked by mass acquisition bargain disorder, not a terminal disease, but a symptom mayhaps, you’d think folks of a certain age would have enough stuff of their own by now. I find myself thinking of mortally wounded Roman generals sweeping their robes over their faces to hide the rictus of death, but are we not each and all mortally wounded by birth? Here there is motion absent emotion, neutered neutrality of onlooking without contemplation, the focus is on stuff, stuff, see…STUFF? Only the ghosting sounds of slipper-shuffling of we en masse elderkinder, shovers-pushers-leaners-stumblers caterpillaring fronts-to -backs in congress of conga lines through rooms and no evidence of organization anywhere to be seen, only a stentorian auctioneer trying to convince his groupies how cool he is, “ever’ item to be sold on its own an’ mebbe some in groups, but don’t know thet yet, guess you folks’ll have to stick aroun’ to find out,” and I am thinking of all the days it may take to deplete the inventory of the dead and no wonder there is a pop-up concession stand, which elevates magically, like a Slo-Mo rabbit from a silk hat, this from a trailer pulled by a mouse-sized SUV. The morning sun seems to illuminate hoary heads of strollers and I am thinking it is god’s pointer going each to the other, or side by each, trying to decide who next to call up or send down, like a Big League Club’s GM getting ready for the playoffs. It is that time of year for baseball and life. Yooper matter-of-factness holds the high ground here, an old fellow (my age) and I are looking at shelves of native copper skulls of two-hand heft. The old guy croaks softly, “Armanalegalldatestuffeh?” Stuff, no acquisitions, mementos, crop or even shit, just a neutral stuff, a word of distant respect if not for those who gather, then for the item itself, ars cum grano salis.
[September 6, Hancock, Michigan]
Over, youse enjoy da pitchers, hey.
Today we sample our first ground cherries. Flavor something of a mix of pineapple and sweet tomato? We’re going to try them on vanilla ice cream. Who knew? You don’t have to pick them. When they’re ripe, they fall to the ground, courtesy of Mrs. Gravit. They have a paperish leaf all around them, very fine, like foolscap paper. Photo follows and a photo of Lonnie’s latest mobile creation, created from drfitwood and beach glass from Lake Superior, and Keweenaw copper. She calls this one, “Wild Treasure.” Cool. They take a while to make. Over.
DAY 123, September 2, 2014, ALBERTA –My brothers and I grew up as a library kids. In our own military brathood lifestyle we used to cycle from time to time between assignments, meaning the old man went ahead of us to establish a base, and we often spent weeks or months at my grandparent’s home in my birthplace, on the banks of the Hudson River, about 20 miles north of Poughkeepsie and 40 miles south of Albany. The town of Kingston is directly across the river. We had a fine view of the Catskill Mountains, known locally as the Yiddish Alps.
By the time the village took its current name of Rhinecliff, it had already been a village for 150 years, formerly known as Kipsbergen, which was founded in 1686, nine decades before the revolution, which created our independent country. At 328 years old, Rhinecliff has not changed all that much and it is in my heart, my true birth home, the place that wherever I wander, I always relate back to.
There was a Boy’s Club in Rhinecliff, which met weekly at the Morton Memorial Library and Community House, one of those once-a-week-lets-make-crap-with-plywood, using coping saws with blades as thin as dog hair. Truth told, I was not much on woodworking, but I loved books and reading. I would halfheartedly and dutifully cut wood for a while, and then sneak upstairs to the stacks where Mrs. Maude Zegelbrier was the honcho. Mrs. Z described her job as the village’s book hander-outer, an august job she held for 35 years. She eventually let me skip woodworking entirely, and come sit Indian-legged between stacks where I was free to explore anything on a shelf, no restrictions, no rules, no warnings. It was a place where I could follow my young fancy (meaning ignorance), even if it meant staring at the breasts of south sea dancing women in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICS, which I did. Most happily and studiously.
I still have strong emotions for the smell of old books and poorly lit library shelves, and squeaky wooden floors.
Our home was one with books. Same with my other relatives, as I remember it, which we know is no guarantee of anything other than wishful thinking sometimes. I grew up loving books, reading them and possessing them.
To this day when I enter a strange house I look to see if there are books on shelves and a dog. These are weaknesses of my personality, not on the part of others because there are valid reasons for not having canine company, or books on shelves. Still, no dog and no books makes me a bit edgy.
But all of this is off the point — if there is a point to this at all. I have just finished reading an essay entitled “Packing My Father in Law’s Library.” It appears in James Wood’s THE FUN STUFF (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012). Wood is a wonderful writer and and unorthodox and interesting thinker. The piece concerns what to do with his late F-I-L’s library The F-I-L had retired to Ontario and left his collection was 4,000 volumes, a fair-size treasure of dead trees.
When my own collection was last counted, some years ago, it was in excess of 20,000 volumes (and altitude at which Oxygen is required, not optional). Wood’s essay, if it did nothing else, made it clear to me I need to make time to do a full inventory and think about what to do with all the volumes in my many rooms. I have extensive collections of fiction, Michigan history, Russian/USSR history, Chinese History, Japanese history, and World War II. My approach to reading is far from unique. When I find an author who captures my attention, I tend to collect and read everything he or she has published. Others no doubt pursue the same tactic, and my collection mirrors my interests and has no greater organizing or collecting principle than that. What it is for me is a true working library because I (egad!) write notes in margins, underline and otherwise desecrate so-called collectible volumes. Some of what I underline I transfer into notebooks on various topics and themes. Pristine and virginal this collection is surely not, but then neither am I.
Wood tells us that we tend to venerate libraries once we know whose they are and there’s some truth to this, I suppose if you are of the exalted stations of what the Japanese call yimina shosetka, or famous author. Me, I fall into the step-below class of just plain-brown envelope shosetka, author. I vaguely realize that all those rooms of books represent a potential burden to my survivors, and that in a surge of uncharacteristic decency, it might be appropriate for me to simplify and shorten the bench. Sumimasen, I USE my books, and while not at all organized with Dewey Decimal precision, The horde is organized, roughly. Which means I can usually lay-hand on what I need in short order, which it the whole purpose in having the bloody things around.
The notion of selling them or donating them and breaking apart large chunks of resources brings a buzzing palsy upon me. I know many nice people, friends even, who subscribe to the notion of clean desk, clean mind. I’m not one of them. Clean desk to me means unused desk, not enough work to do and such limited scope in thinking that there is a neat file for everything with nothing falling into no-man’s-land. Yuck. These remind me of the MBA kids who’ve been taught to read it once and move it on, or to write 80 percent or 90 percent of what’s needed and let another person wordsmith the rest.
Just as I like having some clutter, I also am addicted to doodling while listening to people speak and there is research only recently announced showing that doodlers retain more than most non-doodlers. Wood points out that there is a line of thinking that much can be learned about a man by his choice of books. I suppose his choice of movies would fit there just as nicely. Perhaps it is so. I have people asking me (quite often) for reading recommendations. I generally put myself in mumble mode when this happens because we all read for our own reasons and what I like or find compelling may put you to sleep.
Case in point I am reading a recent Pulitzer novel that is akin to crawling through quicksand in waders. I absolutely LOATHE the central character and mind you, this is 154 pages out of the harbor. I truly appreciate recommendations, but rarely find them satisfying and perhaps this is why I am so reluctant to make reading recommendations to others. The exceptions here are my children, all of who are wonderful deep readers and rarely steer me wrong. I guess the gene pool is fairly tight; all of us like good writing, the subject and genre, etc, being largely irrelevant. And we don’t care if the writing is contemporary or 400 years old. Good is good and age or era irrelevant.
It may be that some of us collect books in a quietly ostentatious manner – which is to say, to show off (the novelist’s dictum being show don’t tell). This may be true, even applied to me. What I do know is that many people seek comfort as they age and they tend to read things that underline, underscore, and reinforce what they already think. In contrast, I try to read things that are from people I don’t think I have much agreement with politically or philosophically. I like taking my own beliefs and turning them topsy turvy, putting a new lens on them to see how they hold up and one of the best ways to do this is to read the notions of people you may not agree with, but you won’t know this until you read what they offer. I try to be this way, but often fall short of my intended open-mindedness.
What I do, however, is pursue a lot of subjects I know nothing about and in learning new things I often find things I already think put into a new and interesting light. I used to think of this as an American trait, but I think I’m wrong on that. We are as close-minded as a people as any in the world.
Wood pointed out in the course of his essay that in the English church (Anglican) the Bishop of Canterbury is officially known as the “Primate of All England.” Wood asks, “Does that mean he should be called Chief Chimp?” I recently read the results of national survey (Pew) on Christians in the U.S. The poll showed that 10 percent of those who call themselves Christian believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. This is not a joke. I just shook my head.
Today at Fob’s restaurant in Crystal Falls I heard a woman insisting loudly that teachers who taught only five years in Illinois would collect 100K-a-year pensions. Clearly she was badly misinformed and full of fecal matter. Her companion was heard to say, “They pay that much money for that kind of work?’ He was an engineer and complained teachers were better paid than his kind. But where does this sort of thinking come from?
Writers and artists tend to see differently than others. Differently, not necessarily better.
Virginia Woolf once wrote: “An ordinary mind on an ordinary day amasses impressions haphazardly, inattentively, and keeps a latent but later accessible stock of…encounters from which rises a sense of self, which is then the product of its conditioning by this random accumulation.”
Ergo, we might reasonably conclude from Ms Woolf’s description of how we pull in information, that some folks might come to think Joan of Arc is Noah’s old lady.
This scattered approach to observing and experiencing life is one reason people make less-than-ideal eyewitnesses. Ask any cop. We all claim to look, but as it turns out, few of us actually see and probably none of us see fully all the time.
We saw two moose today, which advanced our summer count from un to trois and whilst books and reading and writing afford immeasurable pleasures, the sighting of things rare living creatures in our environment trumps all else, at least for the moment.
I hear a bed calling my name. Over.